Massive geysers have been detected and found to be spewing its contents heavenwards in impressive displays.
No these are not the geysers of Yellowstone National Park or the resultant activities of Mt. Kilauea in Hawaii. These eruptions are taking place on Jupiter’s distant moon, Europa.
Xianzhe Jia, a researcher at the University of Michigan, has published a study of Europa’s geysers based on indirect evidence gathered by NASA’s Galileo satellite that passed by the moon back in 1997, writes Science Alert. When the Hubble Telescope spotted what looked like ejections of water.
“The idea that Europa might possess plumes seems to be becoming more and more real, and that’s very good news for future exploration,” said Jia.
Galilieo’s cosmic drive-by collected data that was little understood twenty years ago, but Jia had a theory that what the probe’s instruments were detecting were geysers of salt water.
If true, Europa may be the site of some form of extraterrestrial life. The existence of geysers may also make NASA’s job of detecting such life much easier.
By spewing the contents of Europa’s subterranean ocean or lake into space, it would only be a matter of a probe flying through the cloud of detritus and collecting the material.
NASA is currently planning to do just that with its Europa Clipper mission planned for the mid-2020s, writes Science Alert. Also looking to dip its investigatory beak into the cosmic waters is the European Space Agency’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE), which is set to launch around the same time.
Jia and Margaret Kivelson, a space physicist at the University of California at Los Angeles, joined forces to go over the decades old data and used a computer simulator to test what the evidence might mean and what they could expect to gather from the geysers.
“It’s amazing how hard it is to anticipate something that just hasn’t happened before,” Kivelson commented.
Science Alert writes that the “source of the plume is still unclear. The prevailing theory is the water comes directly from Europa’s subsurface ocean and is being driven upward by hydrothermal activity much like that which powers geysers on Earth.”
There is hope that the James Webb Telescope, set to be launched soon, will greatly assist in analyzing the moon and its expected geysers.
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